Tag Archives: Bard on the beach

As You Like It

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Let’s see – I’ve had a birthday, we’ve been camping, but school hasn’t started yet… It must be time for Bard on the Beach!

Every year we try to go (some years more successfully than others) and every year I am driven to blog about the experience because the productions are so good. Bard don’t need the publicity, I think, they’re doing just fine on sales. Tonight’s tent was sold out, and every seat occupied by an enthusiastic supporter of the arts.

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With no visitors, it was only Mrs Dim, myself and all the Weasels, settling into our seats for a performance of “As You Like It”, a play that none of us were familiar with. Well, that’s to say, none of us had seen a full production, but it’s the play that contains the “All the world’s a stage..” speech, and one of the scenes was used in the “I’m Sorry I Haven’t A Clue” Shakespearean Special ‘Pick Up Bard’ game.

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What really put the icing on the cultural cake for us this year, however, was a staggering coincidence. All this summer, Tiny Weasel has been obsessed with the Beatles. OBSESSED. She’s watched their films, documentaries, recited interviews and even purchased a cd! A Child of the Millennium, buying physical media! And this year’s production of As You Like It was going to feature 25 songs…by The Beatles!

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It was a toe-tapping extravaganza, with audience singalongs and plenty of sight gags, alongside the snappy dialogue. Mrs Dim’s favourite moment was

“She’s coming. Hide!”

“Why?”

“Because it’s Shakespeare!

Bard on the Beach must work very hard to make this all look so effortless. It proves there’s life in the old plays yet, as there were people of all ages in the audience, and they had no trouble following the plot or the language. I’m already looking forward to next year.

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Bard on the Beach 2015

A different configuration for the stage this year, but still simple, and able to represent numerous locations.

A different configuration for the stage this year, but still simple, and able to represent numerous locations.

Last year’s Bard on the Beach was a bust for us – we were ready to go and be entertained on Sunday morning, but it turned out we had tickets for Saturday afternoon. Oops.

This year we almost missed the boat completely. With visitors throughout the summer, it was always an option, but superseded by other events. Lucky for us, Middle Weasel asked about it with just days of performances left, and we ended up booking tickets for the final performance of the season.

The play we booked was “A Comedy of Errors”, one that none of us had encountered before. The production had transformed the setting into Steampunk, and we were all excited to see how that would work. As the photo shows, the set was all brass and cogwheels, with steam and clanking, grinding sound effects from five minutes before the start of the show. The characters wore great outfits – goggles, metal-accented limbs, eyepieces, Victorian styles.

The story concerns two pairs of identical twin boys, who are separated in a shipwreck, and are then amusingly mistaken for and by each other... over and over again.

The story concerns two pairs of identical twin boys, who are separated in a shipwreck, and are then amusingly mistaken for and by each other… over and over again.

It’s no surprise that the performance was excellent. The production values are high, and this was the final performance of the 26th Season of Bard on the Beach – you don’t get longevity like that with mediocre work. But it felt like the last night was giving the performance some extra zing. The actors were clearly having a lot of fun with their roles, and there was more than a hint of in-jokes being played throughout.

The Weasels try out a Steampunk look.

The Weasels try out a Steampunk look.

As always, I was mesmerised by the fact that a simple set – in this case a walkway above and two side entrances plus a central doorway – could be so many locations. I wanted to film the proceedings and post it on the Lazy Bee website to show other playwrights what is possible with a minimal set and a wild imagination. Of course, the person I should be reminding about it is ME.

The evening closed with a brief ceremony to mark the end of the season, with the Artistic Director inviting all the cast, crew and volunteers onto the stage. Each brought a candle, and the AD recited Prospero’s closing speech from “The Tempest” – the lights went down, and the candles were blown out.

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We’ll be coming back next year – Romeo and Juliet is on the schedule, and Middle Weasel is studying that this year. Come along to Vanier Park and see it with us – there’s no better way to see Shakespeare!

An afternoon at Twelfth Night

Screen-grab from YouTube : Go see it in 3D in Vanier Park!

Screen-grab from YouTube : Go see it in 3D in Vanier Park!

I am often surprised by the things my Weasels enjoy, or think about. Last year, I had trawled through the selection of things to watch while I ironed, and found a brilliant film version of “Twelfth Night” (By Shakespeare, in case you were wondering.) Tiny Weasel, and then Middle Weasel crept in, drawn by the sounds of TV, and both watched the film with apparent interest.

So when it turned out that “Twelfth Night” was one of the plays in this year’s Bard on the Beach, we booked tickets. We would have booked tickets anyway, but there was, at least, a reason for choosing this play over “Hamlet”.

Just like last year, I was tremendously impressed. Firstly, the staging is so simple.

Last year's staging

Last year’s staging

With an entrance from the back of the stage and two side entrances, and all props and set wheeled or carried on by the actors themselves, we moved from Hotel, to beach, to Bath house and on. It sounds simple enough, but I read plays every week that struggle to convincingly produce two or three locations on one stage. Like many playwrights, I prefer to find a single location for my action to simplify staging*. Seeing productions like this makes me feel I am limiting my imagination too much. It’s also the definition of what makes theatre a different experience from film.

This production moves the time period to the 20’s with jazz as a soundtrack and Olivia’s House is presented as a hotel. However these details don’t really matter, as the quality of the acting and the singing soon sweep you away into the story. Like many of Shakespeare’s tales, it’s a little unlikely – twins separated by a storm, the girl dressing as a boy to preserve her safety and falling into the service of local Duke. She is forced to carry his profession of love to Olivia, even as she herself has fallen in love with him. Olivia is too deep in mourning the death of her brother to hear talk of love, until she sees the disguised Viola and falls in love with him/her. It’s the classic love triangle. As a subplot you have the officious Malvolio (here the Hotel Manager) tricked into believing that Olivia is in love with him and desires that he dress in ridiculous stockings and smile more. To add to the confusion, Viola’s brother appears, now her true double since she’s disguised as a boy and willingly consents to marry Olivia, who thinks he’s Viola, whom she calls Cesario… You get the picture.

Tiny Weasel found it hard to stay still, but she wasn’t bored. She watched the whole production and followed the story without a problem. It wasn’t updated language, but the original text, and all three Weasels enjoyed it immensely. I’m really glad we went, and we’ll go back again next year.

*It’s true that a director can make the decision to radically alter the staging, but in Shakespeare’s theatre, all these locations would have been presented in the one area, and the impression of each given more through dialogue and mime than exotic set dressing. The Bard on the Beach production is, therefore, very traditional in nature. I believe the onus is on the playwright to communicate the nature of the intended staging. Whether or not the director takes that intention to heart is out of the writer’s control.

Bard on the Beach – Shakespeare in the Summertime!

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I’ve mentioned before how shockingly rare it is for me, a playwright, to actually go to the theatre. Well, one of the features of the summer here in Vancouver is the excellent Bard on the beach productions. Three years in a row we have missed out, but this year, with my parents over from the UK, we were GOING!

Since the show we were booked in for was “The Taming of the Shrew” we opted to take all three weasels. We’d primed the younger two by letting them watch Branagh’s “Much Ado About Nothing”, and youngest weasel had also taken part a class presentation of that play too. I was still a little nervous, since it was likely to be a long show…but I need not have worried. The production was hilarious. Funny because of the performers, the handling of the lines, the physical comedy. The acting was impeccable, moving from broad comedy to heartbreaking emotion. It was so gripping that the time flashed by and all too soon we were on our way out again.

The show proved that you don’t need an all-singing, all dancing mobile set to produce an epic show, you don’t need holograms, or explosions to show an audience a good time, and Shakespeare doesn’t need “translating” into modern speech to appeal. Youngest Weasel is eight years old and she loved it.

There’s a big question about the play, though. If I had read it, I think I would have had real problems with Kate’s speech at the end. You know, the one that goes “Thy husband is thy lord, thy life, thy keeper, thy head, thy sovereign, one that cares for thee…”. From the text you may think that Petruchio is just mercenary, using some fairly brutal brainwashing tactics to bring his young wife to heel. But in this production it was clear that he was smitten with Kate from his first sight, and his “schooling” was aimed to bring her to the point where she could love him as much as he loved her. In the play, they really stretched the point where Kate reaches out to Petruchio and asks him to take her hand, until the whole audience was practically begging him to reciprocate. When he did take her hand, he kissed the palm with such passion I could feel my wife melting three seats away. As a result, I viewed Kate’s speech with a different slant, though I feel it would have been better directed at both halves of the newly-married couples. The best relationships are built on mutual respect, after all, with each partner trying to love and serve the other more.

We’ll definitely be back for more next year.